While senior year of college is somewhat different from senior year of high school (we’re older and wiser and have the “real world” waiting for us next year), in many ways they feel the same. There’s the anxiety about the future, the lack of motivation in class, the nostalgia of going through a year of “last times,” and the fear of having to say goodbye to your closest friends.
Don’t get me wrong—senior years are exciting too. In high school, I couldn’t wait for the next step, the adventure of starting over and the thrill of studying what I love. I find the thought of moving on from college exciting too. I’ll finally have the chance to put what I’ve learned to use and lead a life that isn’t ruled by homework and midterm stress.
But at the moment, the excitement is clouded by looming uncertainty. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year or how I’ll support myself, and it’s kind of terrifying. All in all, this semester has been a harsh reminder of what it was like to be a senior in high school waiting to hear back from colleges and worrying about financial aid. To make it through, I’ve been trying to remind myself of my strategy four years ago. So here’s what I learned back then and what I’m trying to heed during my second senior year:
1. Finish strong
If you’re anything like me, the past three years have been full of intense academic battles followed by eventual triumphs. But senior year is here and your stamina is starting to wear off. That little voice keeps asking what the point is and why you’re torturing yourself, and you’re struggling to come up with a convincing response. The conclusion that I finally reached as a high school senior was that the little bit of relief I might have gotten from letting things go wasn’t worth it.
I’d accomplished a lot in the preceding years by working hard and putting my all into my studies and extracurriculars. I’d learned so much and grown in all sorts of ways and knew that I wanted my last year of high school to include the same kind of learning and growth. And while keeping up the same level of perseverance and attention to detail certainly did require a bit more willpower than it had in the past, “finishing strong” was ultimately the best way for me to tackle senior year.
2. Go after what you really want
When you’re a senior, knowing the “right path” for you can feel almost impossible. There is an overwhelming number of choices to be made when applying to college—public or private, in state or out of state, big or small, close or far from home. Most seniors don’t know exactly what they want to study in college, which can complicate the decision even more. And of course affordability is always a huge factor. While going through the decision-making process as a senior, I learned that the best approach for me was to think critically about what I wanted, focus on the schools that fit the bill, and stop stressing about all the other options that I was “giving up on.”
Keeping your options open might sound appealing, but actually going through the process of applying to dozens of schools is anything but. You’re eventually going to have to make a decision anyway, so why not put extra time and care into a few select applications rather than rushing to complete the essays and forms for bunches of schools you’re only semi-interested in? This is one lesson I’ve had to relearn for senior year round two as I watch my friends apply for Fulbrights and grad school. While I know deep down that neither of these are the right option for me next year, I still feel all kinds of anxiety about closing the door on viable possibilities. But at the end of the day, I just have to remind myself that there isn’t much use in pursuing things I’m not truly interested in.
3. Ask for help
Senior year can be scary and stressful, but I’d venture to say that we all have someone in our lives (be it a parent, sibling, teacher, or friend) that we can count on for solid advice and moral support. If you’ve got them, use them. There’s no point in going through it alone, particularly when you know people with expertise or just good listening skills.
During both my senior years, I’ve turned to others for advice on how to balance my current commitments and make my preferred future a reality. Recent graduates are an excellent resource because they can tell you what worked for them and how they got to where they are. Teachers and counselors who’ve watched years of seniors come and go can be fantastic help as well. Before I decided to come to Rochester, I spoke to all sorts of people (from my parents to current Rochester students) who helped me feel confident in my choice. I’m using a similar strategy as I prepare for next year. Most of us are surrounded by others who are willing and able to make senior year and post-graduation preparation as painless as possible. All we have to do is ask.
4. Do all the things (within reason)
Senior year is the last chance to enjoy the school traditions we treasure, take advantage of the opportunities we have as students, and leave our mark on our place of education, and we have every right to strive to accomplish it all. Our last year should be one of new experiences, memorable moments, and thrilling achievements—we’ve worked hard for three years and our last one should be one for the books. During my senior year of high school, I took this philosophy to heart—I was student body president, editor of the yearbook, and secretary of National Honor Society. I kept up a rigorous schedule of AP classes, volunteered in my community, went to the state competition with my swim team, and even managed to make a bunch of wonderful memories with my friends at football games, dances, and senior celebrations. And while perpetual exhaustion was a pretty major side effect, most of the time I felt like I was really making the most of my senior year.
This time around, I’ve tried to do the same, but not without recognizing my limitations. Just like in high school when I decided to opt out of the second semester of AP Calculus to preserve my sanity, I’ve had to turn down a number of opportunities this year. So while I still have a whole lot awesome things on my plate, I also have time for friends, sleep, and some occasional fun. I don’t want to end my senior year feeling like I missed out on anything, but I also know from high school that I don’t want to end the year feeling like I didn’t get to enjoy all that I did. Self care has to be in the mix too.